NSW reports 18 new Covid-19 cases, the highest number in three months

New South Wales has recorded its highest number of new Covid-19 cases in three months, prompting the state government to issue a warning against attending gatherings larger than 10 people and dramatically increase the number of contract tracers working in its health department.

NSW recorded 18 new Covid-19 cases up until 8pm on Saturday, including three people “who have no identified links to known clusters”. It is the highest total number of cases recorded in the state since 19 April, when 21 cases were reported.

The new cases include three people who officials believe contracted the virus through community transmission, and another who is still under investigation, prompting the state government to issue new advice on gatherings and wearing masks in public.

On Sunday the state’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, outlined a number of new recommendations and flagged concerns about people attending hotels, restaurants, gyms and social gatherings.

“People are urged to avoid non-essential travel and gatherings. Of particular concern is transmission in venues such as hotels and restaurants, the gym and social gatherings. We are calling on people across the state to take extra care and follow these steps,” he said.

The state’s health department updated its advice on face masks, encouraging residents to “consider use masks in situations where you are unable to social distance”, and warned people not to attend or host gatherings of more than 10 people.

As schools in NSW return from Monday, the NSW transport minister Andrew Constance urged people to walk or cycle to work and school if possible, saying there was an “inherent risk” to travelling on public transport.

One of those who authorities believe contracted the virus through community transmission recently visited the Holy Duck! restaurant in Chippendale. It is the first recent case of the virus appearing in an inner-Sydney suburb.

The restaurant temporarily closed on Sunday and health authorities asked anyone who visited Holy Duck! on 10 July between 7.15pm and 9.30pm to self-isolate for two weeks.

Other new cases included five people linked to a new outbreak at the Thai Rock restaurant at the Stockland Mall in Wetherill Park; four who attended the restaurant, and a close contact of a case who was there. The Thai Rock restaurant has emerged as a second cluster of cases on top of the Crossroads Hotel cluster in Casula, which has now recorded more than 40 cases.

Only five of the new cases in NSW were from people in hotel quarantine.

People take a stroll at Bondi Beach in on Sunday.
People take a stroll at Bondi Beach in on Sunday. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

As the number of cases in NSW continue to rise, the state government has announced it will double the size of its contact-tracing team from 180 to 380 and cap international arrivals. From Monday the number of overseas arrivals allowed into Sydney will be capped at 350 per day after an agreement was struck with the Commonwealth.

In a statement the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the decision was “a necessary step to ensure NSW remains in a strong position to prevent the spread of Covid-19”.

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of the people of NSW, and this new cap will help us protect our state from COVID-19,” Berejiklian said.

NSW has struggled to contain the latest outbreak in the state, which began when a Victorian man travelled to NSW before the border between the two states was closed. While the number of cases in the state has remained relatively low since the second outbreak, the emergence of new cases of community transmission threatens to undo that.

On Sunday the federal health minister Greg Hunt said the state’s contact tracers were engaged in a “Herculean tracing task and they are doing an extraordinary job”.

Meanwhile the Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Sunday that she will push for the NSW border to be pushed south to ease congestion at checkpoints where local streets have become choked with traffic as motorists face long delays.

Palaszczuk says she will request Berejiklian push the checkpoints south.

“I’ve got a letter that we’ve been working on over the weekend and I’ll be sending that on Monday,” Palaszczuk told reporters.

“You know, we will do whatever it is necessary but we have previously requested at an operational level, if it could be moved to the Tweed River. That is purely a matter now for the New South Wales Premier…I’m not going to comment any further until I’ve been able to send that letter and have a discussion.”

Also on Saturday a large Maronite church in Sydney’s north-west was closed for cleaning after the discovery of a case there.

The church member attended Our Lady of Lebanon in Harris Park in Sydney’s north-west on Wednesday at 5.30pm, Thursday at 6pm and Friday at 1.30pm and 6pm. The church has been closed until Tuesday.

“It is not believed at this stage that the parishioner has contracted Covid-19 at the parish,” the church said in a post on social media.

Also in NSW, dozens of people faced $1,000 fines after police broke up a house party in Sydney’s west on Saturday night.

The state’s police said they planned to issue 60 fines after officers received complaints of a “noisy party” at Schofields at about 11.30pm.

In a statement police said officers discovered more than 60 people gathered at the property, in breach of public health orders which limit visitors to a home to 20 people.

Police deployed helicopters, dog units and used pepper spray after a fight broke out at the party. Three males were taken to Blacktown hospital, two for minor injuries sustained in the brawl and a third for the effects of alcohol.

Police have been told the house had been booked via an online rental company.

Western Australia’s exemption list for NSW arrivals is getting even shorter as the state monitors Covid-19 outbreaks in the eastern states.

From 11.59pm on Sunday, exemptions will only be granted to certain senior government officials, certain active military personnel, federal MPs and their staff.

People carrying out functions under commonwealth laws, anyone requested by the chief health officer, and transport, freight and logistics workers will also be eligible for exemptions.

The tougher regime on NSW arrivals is in line with WA’s approach to coronavirus-stricken Victoria and will be in place for an initial two weeks.

-with Australian Associated Press